Since assuming power 10 years ago, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has maintained absolute rule over the isolated country, significantly expanded its nuclear arsenal and become the North’s first ruler to hold a summit with a sitting U.S. president.
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un rides a white horse to climb Mount Paektu, North Korea, Oct. 16, 2019.
But now, he’s hunkering down and struggling to revive a dilapidated economy battered hard by pandemic-related border shutdowns, toughened U.N. sanctions and mismanagement.
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un (C) surrounded by a military unit, reacts to what it claims as a test firing of its "super-large" multiple rocket launcher in North Korea, Nov. 29, 2019.
When he inherited power upon the death of his father and longtime ruler Kim Jong Il, there were questions about the future of North Korea. Little was known about the then-27-year-old son who was taking his family’s dynastic rule into a third generation. But Kim Jong Un quickly consolidated his power by orchestrating a spate of brutal purges and executions that removed his potential rivals including his own powerful uncle.
Entering 2018, Kim abruptly took conciliatory gestures by sending a delegation to the Winter Olympics held in rival South Korea and telling visiting South Korean envoys that he was willing to place his nuclear program on the negotiating table.
North Korea's Hwang Chung Gum and South Korea's Won Yun-jong carry the unification flag during the opening ceremony of the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea, Feb. 9, 2018.
Some critics accused Kim of just trying to weaken the sanctions, buy time and perfect his weapons program, but then-U.S. President Donald Trump accepted Kim’s offers for unprecedented summit talks between the leaders of the two countries.
U.S. President Donald Trump (R) reaches to shake hands with North Korea leader Kim Jong Un at the Capella resort on Sentosa Island in Singapore on June 12, 2018.
In 2018-19, Kim met Trump three times and held summits with other world leaders including South Korean President Moon Jae-in, Chinese President Xi Jinping and Russian President Vladimir Putin. These meetings gave Kim the diplomatic legitimacy that his government had long desired.
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un (L) and South Korean President Moon Jae-in raise their hands after signing a joint statement at the border village of Panmunjom in the Demilitarized Zone, South Korea on April 27, 2018.
The high-stakes nuclear diplomacy triggered a rare mood of rapprochement on the Korean Peninsula, with athletes from the rival Koreas marching together during the Olympics’ opening ceremony and their singers performing in each other’s territory.
U.S. President Donald Trump (L) meets with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and South Korean President Moon Jae-in (R) at the border village of Panmunjom in the Demilitarized Zone, South Korea on June 30, 2019.
Since early last year, Kim has largely shut his country’s borders as part of draconian anti-virus measures that experts say are taking a heavy toll on his country’s already troubled economy. He called ongoing difficulties “the worst-ever” and compared them with a 1990s famine that killed hundreds of thousands.
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un (L) talks with former NBA player Dennis Rodman (R) as they watch an exhibition basketball game at an indoor stadium in Pyongyang on Jan. 8, 2014.
But there are no signs that Kim will return to talks with the United States anytime soon. Instead, he has repeatedly warned he will bolster his nuclear and missile arsenals unless Washington drops its hostility against Pyongyang.
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un (C) speaks in front of what the North says an intercontinental ballistic missile displayed at an exhibition of weapons systems in Pyongyang, North Korea, Oct. 11, 2021.
North Korea's next leader Kim Jong Un (4th L) salutes beside the hearse carrying the body of his late father and North Korean leader Kim Jong Il during the funeral procession in Pyongyang, North Korea, Dec. 28, 2011. Escorting Kim Jong Un are, Jang Song Thaek, Kim Jong Il's brother-in-law and vice chairman of the National Defense Commission (3rd L), top propaganda official Kim Ki Nam (2nd L), Workers Party officials Choe Thae Bok (L), partially hidden, and two military officers, Ri Yong Ho, vice marshal of the Korean People's Army, (R), and People's Armed Forces Minister Kim Yong Chun.